It is the dawn of a new era on Route 66 in Kingman, Arizona. The town forever immortalized in a catchy tune about getting your kicks on Route 66 is embracing their historic connection to the storied highway in a very big way. As we move closer to the Route 66 centennial, and (hopefully) a post COVID 19 world with the return of international tourism next year, Kingman is making up for lost time as the city transitions from stop to destination.
The Route 66 Association of Kingman, a leading proponent of Route 66 related development in Kingman since 1994, has been involved with a number of projects in recent years. A few years ago, in partnership with Legacy Signs and the City of Kingman, the association funded creation and installation of a sign near the Powerhouse Visitor Center.
The colorful sign designated distance to the communities note in the song about getting your kicks on Route 66. The association that is funded entirely by membership has also hosted receptions for groups such as the Dutch Route 66 Association, worked with property owners on façade renovations, and acquired, and restored, historic signage. The association also funds a graffiti clean up program and is in the early stage of creating a neon sign park.
Last year the City of Kingman unveiled a retro styled sign for the visitor center. This Saturday they will host the opening ceremony for a drive through Route 66 arch, a cooperative project funded by the City of Kingman and Historic Route 66 Association of Arizona. Both of these signs were designed and created by Legacy Signs.
In early 2021, Kingman Main Streetlaunched an ambitious initiative that has the promise of transforming the historic district and Route 66 corridor. The multifaceted projects includes an innovative self guided narrated walking tour. This link is for the website with a sample of the walking tour. I am honored to provide the narration for this tour. Also included will be a public arts component and revitalization of the dormant Route Walk of Fame.
The Wanderlust has lured me to the seven lonely seas,
Has dumped me on the tailing-piles of dearth;
The Wanderlust has haled me from the morris chairs of ease,
Has hurled me to the ends of all the earth.
How bitterly I’ve cursed it, oh, the Painted Desert knows,
The wraithlike heights that hug the pallid plain,
The all-but-fluid silence, — yet the longing grows and grows,
And I’ve got to glut the Wanderlust again.
I am not sure if wanderlust is hereditary. But I do know that my pa was consumed with wanderlust. After mustering out of the service in the summer of ’66, until he was about 65 years old, seldom did he hang his hat in one town for more than four years at a time.
And when he did sit down roots, it was in Jackson, Michigan where he had grown up. And when he passed away last year at age 92 it was in the house on Hinckley Boulevard where he was born.
But the wanderlust consumed him well into his late 80s. At age 63, in a 1973 Plymouth and a car loaded with camping gear, he drove from Michigan to see me and my family in Arizona, and then drove the Alcan to Alaska. The return trip was across Canada.
I am not sure that wanderlust is hereditary. But it can be instilled. One of my earliest memories is of an epic adventure in a battered, rusty Chevy convertible manufactured long before I was born. We were relocating from Norfolk, Virginia to Michigan. It was one big camping trip, with midnight stops for gas, oil, and ice cold orange soda pop. I close my eyes and can still smell the hot car, the gas station with its tires, oil, and grease intermixed with smells of wet pavement and fresh mown hay.
By the time I turned 18, we had made so many trips across the country from Michigan to Arizona, and from Arizona to New Mexico, Alabama, Tennessee and Michigan, I had no need for a map. I could address a detour on the fly and still make a deadline. That served me well when I turned my hand to gear jamming rigs from Arizona into Kansas and Oklahoma.
As a sort of 18th birthday present, pa took me on a business trip of sorts. It was an epic adventure, it was an awkward attempt at reconciliation between an estranged father and son. We set out in a rusty ’68 Plymouth Fury from Michigan with a destination being Kingman, Arizona. The “business” that sparked the trip took three days. We were on the road for thirty two days.
We hiked to Timpanogos Cave near American Ford, Utah. We watched the movie The Omen at an ancient theater somewhere in Utah. We camped at White Sands, New Mexico. We broke the ice on a pan of water and shaved along Clear Creek near Buffalo, Wyoming. We saw Mount Rushmore and the Corn Palace. I helped tune up the car in Springerville, Arizona. I helped fix the brakes in a motel parking lot in Idaho.
My dearest friend had traveled little when we met. But soon she too was consumed with wanderlust. Now, nearly forty years later, together we have covered more than thirty states. And our adventures have become international with memories made, and shared with friends, in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland.
Wanderlust has inspired me to follow dusty trails to forgotten towns and towering peaks.
Wanderlust has led to friendships that last a lifetime.
Wanderlust still inspires adventures on he back roads.
Wanderlust has inspired me to share the adventure.
Jay Leno in his ultra rare Doble steamer stopped by one of my book signings at Auto Books Aero Books in Burbank.
It was a bizarre series of coincidences that led to an interview in Jay Leno’s garage. Long hours, hard work, endless research and laser focus on a goal ended with the biggest financial loss encountered to date. My first book contract was awarded because of who I knew and not what I knew. A literal wrong turn led to one of the most amazing jobs.
After years of trying to get my foot in the door at a major publisher, I was awarded a contract. The book was in the last stage of completion – final edit, photo selection, cover design approval. And then they declared bankruptcy and the project was brought to an abrupt end, with the company retaining publishing rights.
Much like Louis Chevrolet I haven’t always taken advantage of opportunity. And like the legendary Arizona frontier prospector Paulene Weaver, sometimes I never realized it was an opportunity until months or even years had passed. And then, like David Buick, there were incredible opportunities that I squandered or that were akin to an attempt to nail Jell-O to the wall.
In the past 18 months my entire world was up ended, and I had to draw on survival techniques through decades of good times and bad times. Can you relate?
I kicked off the year 2020 with bright and shining opportunity stretching to the far horizon. By the end of January my schedule included paid speaking engagements throughout the United States, western Canada and in central Europe. Even better, I had corporate sponsors for most of the travel expenses.
The first engagement was a museum fund raiser in Needles, California. As it turned out I packed out the house at the historic El Garces. I never imagined that this would be the highwater mark for the year. Within a few short weeks every engagement had been canceled, travel plans were suspended, and sponsors placed support on hold.
In March notice was given that Murder & Mayhem on The Main Street of America: Tales From Bloody 66, was the recipient of a major award. Then the publisher closed resultant of COVID-19, and promotion was reduced to almost nothing. Then the warehouse was reduced to a skeleton crew and as a result, even my order for books was delayed by weeks.
For months on end each day was a new high in low. The classes I teach for Mohave Community College were canceled. My pa passed and I was unable to return to Michigan. All work with tour companies was canceled, postponed or suspended.
In April, I took sick. When I finally gave in and went to the hospital with a temperature of 104 degrees, I was told that, “You do not currently meet testing criteria for COVID 19. However, your symptoms are indicative of either COVID 19 or another closely related viral illness.”
There is a point to this darkly comedic tale. It is best summed up by the legendary cowboy crooner Chris LeDoux. “He said “Sit tall in the saddle, Hold your head up high
Keep your eyes fixed where the trail meets the sky
And live like you ain’t afraid to die
And don’t be scared, just enjoy your ride”
The past sixty days have been a complete reversal of fortune from 2020. But that doesn’t mean that these are trouble free times.
I accepted a book contract on a very short deadline. The final edit and photo selection was completed last week. And I have another book in the works with a deadline of October 1. But there was a snafu on paper work and so payment was delayed.
A few weeks ago I was the guest speaker at an event in Vail, Colorado with a very prestigious audience. I was compensated adequately and I also had the distinct pleasure of imitating an environmentalist on the way to a climate conference. The company plane was sent to Kingman to pick me up.
Apparently my performance was well received. I have now been invited to participate in a think tank series of round table discussions on business, tourism, and community development next spring.
Over the years I have developed a reputation in Kingman, Arizona, my adopted hometown. Of course the reputation I have today is quite different from the one I had years ago when a visit with Judge Clyde McCune was a regular occurrence. That fact alone makes the Kingman Main Streetinitiative to erect a statue in my honor even more amazing. There is definitely something darkly comedic in this distinct honor.
And there is another component to the Kingman Main Street initiative. I have accepted the task of developing a narrated, self guided walking tour of the historic district and Route 66 corridor. This is a project that I have envisioned since proposing it to the city tourism office in 2014.
Another project is development of some promotional materials for the City of Tucumcari. This is a challenging and interesting project that checks all of the boxes. Tell people where to go. Provide a service. Learn something new. Make a dollar.
The key to a successful and relatively worry free life is an ability to adapt, to be flexible. The proverbial dog doo will hit the fan. You can take that to the bank. And you have little or no control over the circumstances. You do, however, have control over how you react and how you adapt.
The first filling station in Kingman, Arizona. Photo Mohave Museum of History & Arts
I was about seven years old when a grizzled old WWI vet took me to a special place that he knew in the sand hills near Port Huron, Michigan. It is still a vivid memory as I came home that day with arrowheads in my jacket pocket.
One summer Uncle Burton took me deep into the woods in north Georgia, and filled my head with vividly told tales of a Civil War battle that had left his grandfather wounded. I came back with a memory, a passion for history and storytelling, and two musket balls.
Long before I began sharing tales of adventures, and forgotten chapters in history, through books and feature articles, decades before the launch of Jim Hinckley’s America, the lines between past and present were blurred. In retrospect I now see that from an early age I was an adventure junkie with an insatiable curiosity.
One time I walked from a very good paying job to answer the Siren’s call. On that particular occasion that call was made manifest in an opportunity to search for gold in Lost Gold Basin. Another incident involved scorching summer temperatures, a leaking kayak purchased at a yard sale (have I mentioned that I don’t really swim?), the Colorado River, and a place called Ring Bolt Rapids that had been used by steam boats during the territorial era. And there was the Fiat incidents (s) in Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Once I started writing, and them making presentations, it was though the flood gates had opened. With each new published book or feature article the opportunities for adventures linked to history increased exponentially.
The Historic Vehicle Association recreating Edsel Ford’s 1915 trip stops in the Black Mountains.
Dateline, Kingman, Arizona, July 16, 1915. Edsel Ford, driving a new Ford, arrived in Kingman last evening with associates and stayed at the Brunswick Hotel. He is traveling the National Old Trails Road with friends. Their destination is the Panama Pacific Exposition in California. Ford is also visiting and evaluating Ford agencies.
Edsel’s journey along the National Old Trails Road was a story that I was unfamiliar with, until the summer of 2015. That was the when the Historic Vehicle Association asked for my assistance. They were recreating Edsel’s odyssey in a 1915 Ford, and that meant that I had a very rare opportunity for a bit of time travel. For a couple of days I experienced travel in western Arizona as it was in the years before WWI.
Then, with encouragement from my dearest friend, several years ago I severed the tether. We took the plunge. Resultant of eye trouble (I couldn’t see any reason to put up with my employers increasingly abusive treatment and they couldn’t see any reason to put up with my deteriorating attitude) we pinned everything on Jim Hinckley’s America. Paying bills, eating on a regular basis, all of it was now dependent on my gift for telling people where to go and my talents for story telling.
The adventures and opportunity for adventures escalated dramatically. A book signing in California morphed into an interview with Jay Leno at his legendary garage. A trip to the European Route 66 Festival in Czechia with friends provided an opportunity to tow a broken Fiat, with a rope, down the Autobahn in Germany on a beautiful summer Sunday morning. A business trip to Germany opened the door to speak before high school classes about Route 66 and Americas societal evolution in the 20th century.
Jay Leno and my dearest friend at Auto Books – Aero Books during a book signing.
And now, work is underway to transform a hair brained idea into an epic adventure that includes educational programs. It centers on acquisition of sponsors, purchase of a vintage vehicle (Model A Ford?), and a road trip along Route 66 from end to end. Discussion are underway with sponsors. The search is on for a suitable vehicle. There have been meetings with producers to discuss making the adventure into a program that provides road trip inspiration as well shares history. The crowdfunding on Patreon has commenced. And lastly there are discussions with schools. Stay tuned.
Somehow, while building Jim Hinckley’s America, I morphed from an author trying to find a way to support the writing habit into America’s storyteller, at least according to accolades and news stories. And I recently learned that this is going to be made manifest in a life sized bronze statue of me in my adopted hometown of Kingman, Arizona.
This is part of a Kingman Main Streetprogram that includes development of a self guided narrated walking tour of the historic business district and Route 66 corridor.
Adventure addiction. It can lead to some pretty amazing places. It can lead to some wonderful friendships. And it can ensure that boredom is merely a word in the dictionary.